DeKALB – Northern Illinois can't stop winning, making free throws or playing solid defense.
The Huskies are still undefeated in Mid-American Conference in play after a 77-69 victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday at the Convocation Center. For the first time since the 1980-81 season, Northern Illinois is 3-0 in the MAC. The Huskies also raised their overall record to 7-8 in getting their fifth straight victory.
They got there Saturday with effort plays on defense to start the second half that led to easy transition baskets and by going 18 of 18 from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes.
"It was a good win by our team, one we had to grind out," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said. "I thought in the second half we really turned up our defense, got some easy buckets."
The game was dominated by fouls as the two teams combined for 52 infractions. NIU guard Jake Anderson picked up his third foul at the 5:47 mark of the first half and had to sit for the rest of the half. Forward Michael Fakuade and center Sean Kowal found themselves in similar positions and sat for long stretches of the first half in foul trouble.
"I thought it was very tough to get a flow," Patton said. "But that's why we had to grind it out."
Guard Xavier Silas (25 points) paced the Huskies in the first half and didn't allow Eastern Michigan (9-7, 1-2 MAC) to pull away. By the time the half ended, the Huskies held a two-point lead and both teams were in serious foul trouble. Saturday was the second straight game NIU has been involved in that had at least 45 fouls.
"It's not good. Boy, I tell you... you talk about the league getting a bad rap. Well, that's one of the reasons," Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey said. "It's turned into a roughhouse type of game, more than pure basketball. I think that hurts us."
NIU opened up a significant lead at the start of the second half. The Huskies went on a 10-run to take a 50-39 advantage. Anderson scored four points and had two rebounds and an assist in that stretch.
Anderson finished with 22 points and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career.
"I just tried to pick up what we were lacking," Anderson said. "For the first half, Xavier was basically carrying us and he just needed some help out there. Most of us were in foul trouble, so you can't help him out from the bench."
NIU had six steals in the second half alone.
The Huskies iced the game at the free throw line, where they will carry a streak of 20 straight free throws made into Wednesday's game at Toledo.
"It's still a byproduct of the right guys getting to the line," Patton said. "Xavier Silas went 10 for 11. Jake Anderson went 6 for 6. We certainly want the ball in those guys' hands late in the game. That's what helps your free throw shooting."